During the filming of “Goodfellas”, Martin Scorsese creates with Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta one of the most memorable scenes of the film. The famous “Funny How?” remains etched in our memories.
Freedmen at the heart of the mafia
Released on September 12, 1990, in French cinemas, Freedmen has become over time one of the monuments of gangster films. Based on real characters, the feature film by Martin Scorsese immerses us in the impetuous universe of the great New York mobsters since the 1950s. Henry Hill, played on screen by Ray Liotta, begins to work for the account of Paul Cicero and gets involved in drug trafficking and other dishonest operations. At his side, the bosses Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) accompany him.
Realizing Freedmen in the early 1990s, the Italian-American filmmaker filmed the novel Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. Many scenes are now cult, thanks in particular to the performances of male performers ranging from Robert De Niro to Joe Pesci. The latter received the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role. Even if the feature film won only one statuette at the most prestigious ceremony in the United States, Freedmen then had 6 nominations including Best Director and Best Picture.
Joe Pesci, the clown on duty?
Among the mythical sequences of the film, one appears as one of the most striking. It takes place in a restaurant, where a good number of mobsters have a drink. In the foreground of the scene are Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). As the laughter multiplies over Tommy’s stories, the mood changes in a matter of seconds.
It’s at Henry’s remark, pointing out to his friend how funny he is, that Tommy cringes. The impulsive, cantankerous and violent character played by Joe Pesci becomes a real leech in front of his sidekick. Repeating several times why he finds him so funny, Tommy does not let go and destabilizes Henry who is gradually losing his means. Around them, no one dares to make a sound. Until Tommy loses his seriousness and announces that he is joking. Suddenly, the tension drops several notches and people start laughing again.
The sequence does not end there. As soon as the joke is over, Tommy bursts a bottle in Sonny Bunz’s face in a thoughtless fit of anger. Then also gets angry at an average man who stares at him insistently. Henry takes the opportunity to repeat that he is a “funny guy”. This time, everyone laughs.
A legendary moment
This scene comes straight from Joe Pesci’s youth. A waiter in a restaurant when he was younger, the American actor tells one of the people, apparently one of the local gangsters, that he is funny. The man takes it badly, enough for this memory to remain in memory. Joe Pesci provides the anecdote to Scorsese who particularly likes it. He does not add it to the scenario but wishes to integrate it into the film.
Scorsese informs the two actors of what is happening in the scene and gives them full responsibility for the dialogue. Worked in rehearsal, the legendary sequence sees Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta pass the buck. This scene is improvisational because of the way the tone changes, the different lines, and the continuity of the scene is created at the moment.
The other actors are not aware, because the director wants the most real possible reactions. This is why the cameras remain fixed and include as many faces as possible. As he indicates to GQ:
I filmed it with only two cameras. Medium shots, no close-ups, because the body language of the people around was very important.
Freedmen remains a success at all levels which has not aged a bit.